Local laws rein in fireworks across Michigan
A growing number of Michigan communities are further restricting where and when residents can set off the controversial and more powerful consumer-grade fireworks allowed under state law.
Local officials inundated by calls and complaints over noise and safety concerns have enacted their own ordinances after the sale and use of consumer fireworks — which include roman candles, bottle rockets and other explosives that leave the ground — became legal in Michigan in 2012.
The state amended its law in 2013 to allow local municipalities to ban fireworks except during the day and early night hours of federal holidays as well as the day before and after them.
Bear Creek Township in Emmet County is among the latest municipalities to expand fireworks regulations. After three years of complaints, the township’s governing board voted on May 4 to ban consumer fireworks in densely populated areas except on the day before, day of and day after federal holidays between the times of 8 p.m. and 1 a.m., Supervisor Dennis Keiser said.
“We haven’t had one complaint yet,” Keiser said about the extra restrictions. “People have called to thank us.”
Michigan’s statute, meanwhile, specifies people cannot launch fireworks from public property, church property or private property without consent. Some municipalities specify debris from fireworks cannot fall on those lands and require written permission from the owner of the property, as well.
Michigan’s law also forbids people from using fireworks while intoxicated or under the influence of a controlled substance. Minors may not purchase fireworks, though in some municipalities they cannot use them or require adult supervision.
Individuals who violate Michigan’s fireworks law face a fine of up to $500 for each infraction — money goes to the Michigan Department of Treasury.
Some communities, such as Warren, specify certain distances from which fireworks can be launched near a building, flammable surface or property line.
“We’re doing everything we can to protect elderly people, pets and small children,” Mayor Jim Fouts said. “We do not want our communities to become war zones.”
Roseville has similar specifications on distances from property, but it does allow for fireworks on the other 335 days of the year so long as they are not set off between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. It also requires a garden hose or bucket of water be ready in case of an accident.
“There were a significant number of complaints about people using fireworks,” Roseville City Attorney Tom Tomlinson said. “People were calling about safety and stuff falling out of the sky, afraid something could catch fire.”
Roseville Deputy Chief of Police John Glandon added that most of the fireworks-related complaints received by police concerned the noise levels.
Several municipalities also include weather specifications. Roseville bans fireworks when wind speeds exceed 10 mph. Mount Pleasant forbids their use when the National Weather Service in Grand Rapids has a “red flag” warning in the area due to dry conditions for a week or more.
“It’s just for people’s safety,” said Jeff Brown, Mount Pleasant public information officer. “Mount Pleasant is very dense, and there’s not a lot of vacant areas.”
But not everyone is so enthusiastic about the new ordinance.
“I don’t think a new ordinance is necessary,” said Alex Myers, a resident of Bear Creek, who said she likes fireworks for their “sparkly” effects. “Fireworks are shot off late, but it’s the Fourth of July.”
The co-sponsor of the 2011 and 2013 legislation, state Rep. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, said he was a supporter of the legalization of consumer fireworks because Michigan was missing out on the economic benefits of selling them. They are readily available in the neighboring states of Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin.
“I even knew police officers who were crossing the border to buy fireworks and then shooting them off here,” McBroom said. “It didn’t make sense to have this ban.”
And fireworks are a booming business.
Consumer and low-impact fireworks have a 6 percent sales tax and an additional 6 percent fire safety fee. Between October 2011 and September 2012, Michigan collected $1,340,682 from the fire safety fee alone, according to the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. That amount has increased every year since. From October 2014 to September 2015, Michigan received $2,094,409.
Combining taxes with consumer fireworks safety certificate fees that stores and temporary vendors need in order to sell fireworks, the state, from October 2014 to September 2015, collected more than half of the $8 million supporters of legalizing consumer fireworks said in 2011 they expected the state to collect annually.
Enforcement a challenge
Many municipalities cited complaints as an impetus for the local governing board to adopt the restrictions allowed for by the state.
In Muskegon, Police Capt. Shawn Bride said before the city enacted its ordinances in June 2014, police had more than 85 complaints over three days in the summer of 2013.
“It has made a difference,” said Jeffery Lewis, Muskegon director of public safety. “We do still get complaints, but at least we can tell (people illegally lighting fireworks) to knock it off, and they usually stop.”
That, however, can happen only if people use them during the restricted hours.
“(Callers) are generally frustrated,” said Brown, an officer from Mount Pleasant. “It’s even worse, when we say there’s nothing we can do about it.”
Some local officials, however, said municipalities find their ordinances difficult to enforce, as people must be caught in the act to be cited for violating fireworks ordinances.
Iron Mountain, which is not far from the Wisconsin border in the Upper Peninsula, struggled with its fireworks regulations even before consumer fireworks became legal, said Jordan Stanchina, Iron Mountain’s city manager.
“It’s always been an issue,” Stanchina said. “The ordinances are hard to enforce. It’s mostly there for chronic or repeat users.”
But issues with enforcing restrictions stretch into lower Michigan, too.
Some municipalities, such as Warren, have extra police and fire personnel on hand to work on federal holidays to ensure people follow laws.
Randy Hannan, chief of staff for Lansing Mayor Virgil Bernero, said the city passed fireworks ordinances to strike a balance for those who enjoy them and those who do not.
“Enforcement is very challenging,” Hannan said. “Many times when police are called to a location, the perpetrators can’t be located. It puts some strain on the police department in terms of enforcing them, especially since there’s no financial support.”
Although the 2013 state amendment does not specify funds for enforcing local fireworks ordinances, it does require that money received from fire safety fees go toward training firefighters. Funds received from consumer fireworks safety certificates also help with administering the law and inspecting sites that sell fireworks.
In past years, Michigan’s licensing department has released $1 million from the fireworks safety fund for allocation to Michigan’s 83 counties for firefighter training. With $4 million in the fund, however, it will release $1 million more in the next fiscal year that begins in October for distribution.
State Rep. Henry Yanez, D-Sterling Heights, said, however, it’s not enough. He introduced a bill last year, which remains in committee, that would repeal the current fireworks law. Another bill in committee introduced in January by state Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton Township, would make the Fourth of July the only day exempt from local ordinances.
Yanez said the costs of sending out fire personnel are more than what municipalities receive. In 2014, Sterling Heights alone spent more than $50,000 on fire runs related to fireworks, though Macomb County received $60,000 in grants to share among its 27 municipalities.
“A lot of the costs are being picked up by the taxpayer, even if they don’t buy or use fireworks,” Yanez said.
McBroom, a co-sponsor of Michigan’s current fireworks legislation, said he does not want to see consumer fireworks banned again, but he would be in favor of further amendments to give law enforcement more discretion.
“People have been so unneighborly with their newfound freedom to use fireworks,” McBroom said. “It’s been disappointing. I thought it would get better after the first couple of years, but it doesn’t appear that it has.”
Detroit Fire Department officials recommend the following when using fireworks:
■Make certain an adult is present whenever fireworks are used.
■Always read and follow instructions on fireworks packaging.
■Don’t give any type of firecracker or sparkler to young children.
■Ignite fireworks outside and away from the house, garage or any area with dry brush or rubbish.
■Keep pets away from the area where you are lighting fireworks.
■Don’t ignite fireworks inside any container, glass bottle or metal cylinders.
■Never experiment with fireworks, especially around vehicles that may contain residual flammable liquids such as gasoline.
■Light fireworks one at a time.
■Never hold a firework in your hand while lighting it.
■Always keep a safe distance.
■Never try to re-light fireworks that malfunction.
■Store unused fireworks in a cool, dry place.
■Keep a bucket of water handy.
Source: Detroit Fire Department
Staff Writer Evan Carter contributed.